On November 20th, the M23 rebels entered Goma, the capital of the North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — positioned on the border of Rwanda and the shores of Lake Kivu. By seizing the city with a population of one million people, the rebels struck their biggest blow since they mutinied from the Congolese army back in April.
On Saturday, a deadline was set for Tuesday by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) — a conglomerate of the nations in the area — for the withdrawal of the rebel forces from Goma. Today that deadline came and went and still rebel patrols blanket the city.
This is just the latest setback in a region that has seen little peace since over one million Hutu refugees spilled over the border in 1994, following the Rwandan genocide, as many were fleeing retaliation from the new Tutsi government. Among their ranks were approximately 50,000 Hutu militia members that participated in the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsi and Hutu moderates over 100 days during the civil war. It is one of the worst cases of genocide the world has ever seen.
Since that time two wars have ravaged the region between 1997-2003 and countless of proxy wars have been conducted, the latest ending in a 2009 peace deal which integrated the leaders of the rebellion into the DRC army and protected them from being punished for their actions during the previous rebellion. The M23 rebels mutinied because they claimed that the DRC government failed to provide sufficient pay and living conditions, breaking the March 23, 2009 deal.
Now that the rebels have refused to leave the city, the DRC military command has called it “a declaration of war.” If a peace deal is not struck soon, the possibility for more violence is almost a certainty, violence that will inevitably cost the lives of more civilians and innocent inhabitants than actual combatants, as per usual in eastern DRC.
This newest conflict in the Congo is just part of a pattern of poor policies and ineffective actions by the international community, most notable the United Nations, to quell the fighting.
First, the U.N. maintains the largest and most expensive “peace-keeping” mission on the ground in the DRC, MONUSCO. At 19,000 soldiers strong and a cost of $1.4 billion per year, the U.N. mission has a mandate which states, “the protection of civilians must be given priority in decisions about the use of available capacity and resources and authorizes MONUSCO to use all necessary means.” The mission has proven time and time again that they have no interest in fulfilling this mandate. On Monday the U.N. troops stood and watched as the rebels took Goma with very little resistance. They failed to provide any resistance as M23 marched on the city, while reports have already accused the rebels of serious crimes against civilians, the same people the UN troops are supposed to be protecting. The U.N. has claimed that exchange of fire with the rebels is not within their mandate, although it clearly should fall under their jurisdiction, considering the numerous reports of human rights abuses against civilians. The local population has been extremely critical of the mission and its purpose. One man stated, “”What purpose do they serve? They drive out in their tanks, they watch the fighting, then they return. They do nothing!”
This is just another example in a long-line of ineffectiveness by MONUSCO and its predecessor mission MONUC. The worst reports have pointed to U.N. troops barricading themselves in their bases while rebel groups decapitated civilians outside their doors. They have also been guilty of human rights abuses themselves, including soliciting sex from refugees and selling weapons to militia groups.
In addition, the mandates call for the support of the DRC military, a group that has been accused of grievous human rights abuses and plundering of resources in the lawless east. There are even reports that the DRC soldiers are looting and raping civilians as they retreat from the M23 rebels. If they refuse to stop the advance of violent rebels, fail to prevent human rights abuses by their supposed ally the DRC military, and are found guilty of abuses themselves, then how can they be considered an effective or helpful peace-keeping unit?
While the U.N. mission failures have been well documented, the U.N. and the international community have done little to prevent further conflict from arising. Last week a U.N. report was released that linked the M23 rebels as being armed, financed and manned by Rwanda and Uganda, with the troops being commanded directly by Rwandan Foreign Minister, James Kabarebe. Reports have surfaced that show M23 rebels in Rwandan military uniforms and using sophisticated communications and military equipment. Still support for the Kagame-led Rwandan regime continues by members of the U.N. Security Council — most notable the U.S. and the U.K. — in the form of aid and protection.
With so many varying agendas within the United Nations and the lack of control over troops dispatched as peacekeepers, the effectiveness of the U.N. to quell violence and broker peace has repeatedly been called into question.
This is not the first time that the finger has been pointed at UN soldiers for a lack of protection or abuse of power during a mission. In the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995, Dutch UN troops stood by as 8,000 Muslims were massacred in the town of Srebrenica. The commander of the 600 UN troops has since stated that he knew the massacre would occur.
Also, during the war in the Balkans, the UN was ravaged by a sex scandal, in which troops were found to be active participants in sex trafficking and frequent proprietors of brothels with known indentured prostitutes. This pattern of harming the people they are mandated to protect kills the credibility of the UN and its missions.
Finally, despite calling for sanctions against Rwanda, Uganda and M23, very little action is expected. The U.S. and UN have sanctioned the rebel leader Sultani Makenga, but still the rebellion gains more momentum. Thousands of troops are expected to defect to the rebel group after seizing Goma.
All of this points to a large ineffectiveness of UN international peacekeeping abilities. If the UN fails to prevent illegal violence through financial strangleholds against those that are guilty of committing and funding violent atrocities and is unwilling to prevent violence against civilians, even with significant boots on the ground, then how can any future UN missions or mandates be trusted? A pattern of passiveness handcuffs their ability at any sort of resolution or development to the situation. To change this culture of failure and mistrust, the UN needs to follow its mandates, impose harsher penalties on those who ignore its rules and act united against forces that destabilize the peace of the world, otherwise the power of the UN will continue to be mocked.